In the 1940s and into the 1960s, a series of hand drawn, light hearted signs depicting proper subway etiquette appeared in the ad strips in the subway cars, usually under the “Subway Sun” banner, all of them drawn by an artist named Amelia Opdyke “Oppy” Jones. I’ll have more of these signs on a future page.
This sign, cautioning against spitting (which has evolved into common practice) might seem perplexing to those who aren’t familiar with NYC iconography. Who’s that fellow with the tricornered hat regarding the spitter with such disdain and spitting out some choice vocabulary? What is he doing in the subway?
He’s the embodiment of NYC, Father Knickerbocker, filling a role similar to that of Uncle Sam. Washington Irving, in the satiric A History of New York, has the fictional character Diedrich Knickerbocker tell the story. Over the years, a figure in colonial dress named Father Knickerbocker came to represent NYC in cartoons and artwork. The name survives most prominently today in the NBA’s New York Knickerbockers.
And, it’s a fun word to say.